Provence isn't really one of those destinations that you need to convince people is beautiful and worth visiting, so I'll spare you all that and fill you in on some fun things we did and answer some of my own questions I had before leaving. There are lots of things I just couldn't find out about - a combination of me trying to over-prepare in case my french failed us (a very likely scenario!) and a lack of websites and information online (so french).
Southern France in July? There are plenty of naysayers out there on the internet and real life who warn you away from it. So is it a problem? I'll give you that the Avis in Avignon was chock full of brits acting like dicks, or rather pricks, as a local helpfully pointed out to me later. I only take that as an opportunity to prove that an american can be less dickish than someone! Aside from a few necessary bottlenecks that are always going to be annoying (ahem, CDG passport control), the experience probably depends way more on your travel style. For us, croissant meal was around 8/9 am and it was absolutely deserted in town aside from shopkeepers sweeping off their stoops and lazy cats and dogs having breakfast in their windows and doorways. Note to Boston - there are plenty of eye-level windows and I've NEVER seen a cat and its kibbs sitting there. We ended up eating all the food we bought every day, which I guess I shouldn’t be shocked by, knowing us. Some things can be planned – like hitting the best local markets on their market day, and some things can’t – like the random tiny farmers market we passed on day on our way back from a long drive. We got single serve goat milk ice creams and a 3 for the price of 2 deal on melons. At least I think so.
Some of the great things and little tips I would tell past Marcy while planning if I could:
Domaine de Gerbaud – The pictures looked pretty cute, but then we pulled up through the farm’s olive groves to a little stone cottage, we realized they should definitely be charging more!
Les Pastras – Dogs, champagne, truffles on thickly buttered bread, truffles on thick slices of cheese? Truffle ice cream with truffle honey?! The farm owners are incredibly nice, welcoming and hilarious. You also learn things while drinking with French people, like - don't clink glasses when in a French-toasting situation or be prepared to endure stony annoyed looks from the French in the crowd - just give it a santé and drink, don’t keep people from their wine! Bonus, they also they have magical plum trees where the fruits look exactly like apricots without the fuzz. They also do grape stomp in the fall – I need to go back! (I’d be saying that even if Dan wasn’t re-watching Lost right now).
La Maison du Gibassier Boulangerie in Lourmarin – Super friendly people, super-jetlag-friendly hours. The croissants were at least as good as any others I’ve had.
La Boulangerie Convert in Ile Sur la Sogue was A+ and had other local treats, bread was as good if not better than places rated as amazing in Paris.
La Fenière – There’s a restaurant and a more casual bistrot - we headed for the bistrot around noon when they opened without a reservation and there were plenty of tables. I would never recommend a gluten free restaurant unless it didn’t affect anything and this place was great. Some Swiss people next to us made us feel incredibly inadequate by having their lunch convo in a mix of 3 languages.
Fruit stands - Stop early and often! They were all along the D973 between Mallemort and Lourmarin (I think the one i went to is on the roundabout with the D11 in Puget but these roads are mostly roundabouts). Great prices, and you can pick your own fruit out. I asked at the market in Cadenet and they were also super friendly about letting you pick your own fruit. Much more laid back than in Paris, but I'd still ask before touching the goodies.
Getting gas - Most of the stations are regular pay at the pump style, but the first one we went to at a grocery store was get gas first, then pay. Let my awkward miming with the attendant be for some purpose! If it doesn't take your card, but lets you pump the gas, you take the gas first.
l'autoroute - Don't get in the lane for coins only by accident! :)